No silver linings for FC Cincinnati despite clean sheet performance

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FC Cincinnati are undefeated on the season, but you would never know it postgame based on the reactions from players and coaches. Despite earning five points through three league matches all while competing in continental competition and rotating heavily, FCC set the bar higher than that. Given their recent performances, they know they should be winning games, not drawing them.

“An overall frustrating afternoon in terms of the overall play and certainly trying to figure out how to score goals,” head coach Pat Noonan said in his opening statement. “That's kind of the missing piece of the end result at the moment. Keep trying to find some answers as to why we can't find the goals at the moment. But a disappointing result.”

For the third time in four games at TQL Stadium this season, FC Cincinnati was held off the score sheet despite creating multiple chances and looking the better team for the balance of the match in each of them. In this case, FCC out xG’d (expected goals) D.C. United by over 1.5 and limited their opponent to one high danger moment and just four shots on target total.

But there is no silver lining.

Noonan, who was concise and direct in his press conference Sunday afternoon, didn’t want to hear about lineup rotation or schedule congestion. He didn’t make excuses for the outcomes. Noonan’s thoughts were clear in both his words and demeanor. The expectation is to get finishes, and more particularly, wins at home.

“We're accustomed to winning games at home and we're not doing that right now. So, I wouldn't expect anybody to be happy about the results,” Noonan added. “I think the play has been good enough to get results in different ways. … That's why it's disappointing because I think there was a win out there for us today.”

“We're in our house and we couldn't get what we wanted today, to give that for the fans, give three points,” captain Luciano Acosta said. “We need to keep working. … That's all we can do is just keep looking at what we have done well, what we haven't done well, correct those errors and keep doing what we're succeeding at. But at the end of the day, it's just keep working.”

“We're a team that goes into every game wanting to win, expecting to win. Especially at home,” Corey Baird added. Baird had multiple shots miraculously saved by the D.C. goalkeeper, adding to the frustration as he searches for his first goal in Orange and Blue. “We've had lots of chances. I think these games could really be going in a very different direction with one ball crossing the line and maybe the floodgates open. But we don't really take too much of a silver lining because our expectations for ourselves are so high.”

The disappointment comes with a bizarre feeling. It is one thing to say the results are disappointing when the performance is poor. It's harder to swallow when the team has objectively played well to open the season … just missing that final push (albeit literally the most important part of the game) to win matches.

Defensively FC Cincinnati has been stout, regardless of who mans the back line for The Orange and Blue. Newcomers like Miles Robinson have slotted into the backline with ease, Kipp Keller looks like a steal and DeAndre Yedlin,who subbed in late in this match, continues to be one of the most dynamic players on the field every time he’s out there. The back line and goalkeeper Roman Celentano, who earned his fourth clean sheet of the season and man of the match, have essentially carried the struggling offense to results.

Furthering that point, D.C. United exited Sunday’s match leading MLS in xG with 8.99 (a full point ahead of the second place team) despite registering less than 0.5 xG against FCC, highlighting how the FCC defense took, analytically, the best offense in MLS so far and locked them down.

But, again, the struggles are so nuanced that they are hyper specific. FCC are playing good ball, they create the chances needed to win, suffocate offenses in their own end, and pressure opponents offensively for 90 minutes.

It is, quite literally, the final touch.

“It's hard to kind of wrap my mind around that,” Acosta said of FCC’s struggles to open the year. “Just a lot of thoughts at the same time. But it's not lost on us to look at what we've done well through these first few games.”

“Although we're disappointed, especially myself, I think the confidence in the group of the way we've played these games, there hasn't been a game that we felt like we weren't better,” Baird added. “It was all games that we really feel we should have taken more points from. So that's positive for the group. Looking ahead to Monterrey, the way we played at home … we're extremely confident that we're gonna go there and we're gonna get a result.”

It’s a game of inches, truly. Baird put on shots that were saved by the fingertips of the D.C. United keeper. Dado Valenzuela put on a strike late that beat the keeper but grazed the far post and went out. Acosta, Pavel Bucha and Aaron Boupendza had shots deflected away by the keeper, and a Keller header floated over the bar.

Goals are coming. Too many opportunities are being presented for the quality of players FCC has on offense to miss. The question more so is will there be a correction to the mean or will this represent a statistical outlier for the year. Through three MLS matches, FCC have two goals and 4.72 cumulative xG, 10th best in the league in xG, but are tied for third fewest goals. The Orange and Blue are tied for sixth through three games in ‘on target scoring attempts.’ Only FCC and LAFC are in the top 12 with three goals or fewer.

If you believe in math, believe the math. FCC’s output doesn’t match their performance. If you believe your eyes, believe them. FCC’s performance doesn’t match their output. Either way, it’s clear. But unless the anomaly of anomalies happens, the trend won’t – or more likely can’t – continue.

“There's been some clear chances that you would expect to see go into the net that just haven't,” Noonan said. “I can't pinpoint one thing, but I think if we can continue to find ourselves in these moments, at some point, hopefully soon, we'll be scoring goals.”

Early Exit Update

In the 32nd minute, Obinna Nwobodo was forced to exit for what Noonan referred to as “a contusion” and forced the hand of FC Cincinnati, subbing on homegrown midfielder Malik Pinto to fill the designated players space for the final hour of the match.

“We'll kind of see how he's feeling in the coming days to know what his availability will look like,” Noonan said. “I don't think it's anything serious, but you just don't know the severity of it.”

Pinto performed admirably in his hour of play, especially considering the rushed nature of his entry and vital role he was stepping into as Nwobodo’s defense in the midfield is key to FCC’s game.

“Malik's performance was good. I thought he came in and did a good job,” Noonan said of his young midfielder. “We made an adjustment with just the positioning of our midfield, and I thought he had a pretty good feel for the moments where he or Pavel (Bucha) needed to be in a more advanced position to help us when we were on the ball. I thought that certainly was better in the second half, but overall, he was moving the ball the right way to get us going to goal. So, I thought he had a good performance.”